Forging a Future – Graduate Student Capstone Project in Detroit

Cover image of the "Forging a Future" report, featuring a black-and-white map of Detroit with the specific area highlighted in molten red

The Problem

For my Urban Planning capstone, I worked with 12 other graduate students to assess how to revitalize a working-class district in Detroit.

The Process

If you’re reading this, probably you’re a UX hiring manager. And if you’re the sort of UX hiring manager that’s only ever worked in digital tech, you might be wondering why there’s an urban planning project taking up space in this applicant’s portfolio.

But I think you’d find it not altogether different from a UX research project. Just look at what was involved:

  • Assessing stakeholder goals and scope of the project
  • Dividing up work in a way that was manageable for all involved, taking into account strengths and interests of team members
  • Managing the project to keep it on track and hit a fixed deadline
  • Conducting background research on the domain and to identify constraints
  • Assessing conditions in the field including gathering information from people via interviews, focus groups, and more
  • Identifying major issues and supporting them with evidence
  • Coming up with recommendations for the short- and long-term

See? Looking back after having more industry experience, the process feels surprisingly familiar. A bit more formal than you tend to get in the private sector, perhaps, but the only major difference here is the domain.

Likewise, producing the report also felt a little like a UX design project. It had to be substantive, sure, but because it was being presented to the City of Detroit as well as other organizations around the city, layout and a clear, consistent visual approach were also important considerations. I lead the team of us worked that worked on this portion.

Just like with a website or an app, I had to figure out how many types of page templates were needed, what the layouts would be on each, and figure out visual design details such as carts, graphs, and iconography.

Gold background with white vertical bars meant to represent a bar chart       A stylized street grid in white on a purple background        A wrench in white on a red background

These icons were used to tie together themes in the document.

A bar chart
A sample bar chart from the report (missing framing details because they weren’t part of the image)

The Product

The research won a 2015 Michigan Association of Planners award for Best Student Project. I don’t expect you’ll read through all 152 pages of the final report (PDF), but you should flip through it to get a feel for it.